R Schumann; C Schumann

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COMPOSERS: R Schumann; C Schumann
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: R Schumann: Piano Sonata No. 1; Romanze in F sharp, Op. 28/2; Humoreske; C Schumann: Romance in B minor; Le ballet des revenants
PERFORMER: Imogen Cooper (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10841

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Love songs, duets and dark sides loom strongly through Imogen Cooper’s latest volume of Schumann, this time paired not with Brahms, but with music by Clara. The pair’s connections are strong throughout and it is especially illuminating to hear the teenaged Clara’s Les ballets des revenants alongside Robert’s F sharp minor Sonata, since the two works share a vital motif.

Clara, writing in her mid-teens, is more prodigiously gifted than fully-fledged in these two works; one can’t help wondering what she might have written had Robert’s attitude and the demands of their large family permitted her to keep on in her mature years. With Robert’s Romanze, Op. 28 No. 2, Cooper ties the couple together in the tenderest way – not that they were, in any case, particularly separable.

In madcap structure, imagination, ambition and sheer wealth of ideas, Schumann’s Humoresque and Sonata No. 1, Op. 11 are among his most fascinating works – and so daunting in terms of coherence that many fine pianists steer clear of them. Cooper, though, allows them to cohere naturally through the sheer élan with which she imbues them. Fresh and inspiring, her playing eschews any vestige of sentiment around the love song element of the programme – this was, ultimately, a tragic tale. There’s a real joie de vivre about the vigour of the Humoresque’s Florestanian episodes, even while Eusebius, the introvert and poet, seems ever present just beneath the surface. These two characters, Schumann’s alter-egos, were after all two sides of the same individual. A rich, empathetic and beautifully calibrated recital.

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Jessica Duchen